Orlando Magic’s season opener is an early test of growth

Dec 21, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero (5) handles the ball while Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. (1) defends during the third quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 21, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero (5) handles the ball while Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. (1) defends during the third quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic want to start the year off on a good note. That has been a rallying cry for the team after their 5-20 start last year essentially derailed any hopes of making the postseason despite rallying to be the last team eliminated from postseason contention.

In order to do so, the Orlando Magic have to win their season opener against the Houston Rockets. The players on this team are starting to make a name for themselves and this team should be done with moral victories after last season.

There is no better way to get things starting than a 1-0 start, especially with a daunting West Coast trip upcoming starting Friday in Portland.

The Orlando Magic are ready to show improvements from last year as the team gears up to face the Houston Rockets in the season opener. Starting fast with a win is essential to that goal.

The young Magic finished the 2023 regular season on the outside of the postseason looking in at 34-48.  Although that is a losing record the Magic improved on the year prior. The year before the Magic finished the season (22-60). That is a 12-game improvement from year one to year two. It was the largest win improvement in the Eastern Conference.

It was good enough to put the Magic on the outskirts of the Play-In chase, giving the team a ton of confidence heading into this season.

The team did not make any blockbuster moves in the offseason to jumpstart the rebuild. So the franchise is counting on the young players on the roster developing into solid players and team continuity to give it an advantage — especially going up against a team like the Rockets that did make major changes from the coach in Ime Udoka to veteran free agent acquisitions in Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks.

Acquiring a young point guard like Anthony Black and a three-point sniper like Jett Howard definitely addressed some of the glaring issues from last year. These are players who will play significant minutes this year and the organization is expecting them to be productive rookies.

But they will have to fight for their playing time too. While they figure to be key parts of the team’s future, their place in the opening night rotation is not certain.

That is because the Magic have improved. The young players on this roster are expected to improve with the team’s two stars in Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner shining on the international stage at the FIBA World Cup this summer.

We will see just how much they have improved tonight as they face a franchise going through a similar situation.

Houston has been at the bottom of the barrel ever since James Harden departed in 2021. The Rockets have had some good drafts, but still find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference standings at the end of the year.

The Rockets were able to draft Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr. in back-to-back drafts, two players who will lead them in the years to come. Houston was also able to land former Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka, who is one of the best basketball coaches in the NBA and is bringing a level of seriousness to the team.

That is all you can ask for as a rebuilding franchise, a top head coach and two players you can build around.

Similarly, the Magic find themselves with two top draft picks in back-to-back years in Banchero and Wagner. Two players who will lead the team in years to come as well.

Magic coach Jamahl Mosely does not have the record or pedigree Udoka established with the Celtics, but Mosley has made drastic improvements from year to year. This is a big for both of these coaches, and both want to start off the season 1-0. The Magic also want to start the season with a win on their home court.

But more importantly, these coaches really want to see just how much their team has improved from the beginning of last year.  The Magic certainly want to see how much of a jump Banchero will make in year two. This coaching staff should be excited to see what contributions they can get from players like Black and Howard in their first go around the league.

Then there is the promise that Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony and Wendell Carter showed to end the season. Not to mention the return of Jonathan Isaac to the lineup and the addition of Jalen Suggs into the starting group.

And with the Rockets, they want to see how this team performs under a new head coach. Udoka has to prove he can lead this team the same way he did in Boston. He had two building blocks and youth surrounding them, so he should not be under too much pressure to have a great year in year one like he was in Boston.

Next. Orlando Magic feel good entering season, ready for test. dark

So this game tonight is more of a test to see where each of these franchises are at the present moment, and both teams should be fired up to get their first win.